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Suing the police: The ongoing legacy of 2010 G20 summit in Toronto

Suing the police: The ongoing legacy of the 2010 G20 summit in Toronto

Back in 2010, Luke Stewart was one of the many grassroots activists and organizers who took to the streets of Toronto in opposition to the G8 and G20 meetings being hosted that year by Canada. He was also one of the many people who directly experienced the now infamously bad behaviour on the part of the police during the protests. Scott Neigh interviews him about the summit protests and about his ongoing lawsuit against the police, which he says is one measure among the many we must take to hold them accountable. He has just launched an appeal, and is crowdfunding the money he needs to make it happen.

The G7 – also known at some periods of its existence as the G6 or the G8 – was established as an element of global governance, particualrly with respect to the economy, during the turbulent 1970s. In the face of both systemic instabilities and grassroots resistance around the world, it brought together the traditional imperial powers with the goal of re-establishing their dominance and that of their preferred capitalist ways of organizing the planet. By the late 1990s, efforts to establish alternatives had been beaten back in much of the Global South with the imposition of neoliberalism, and the G20 was established to allow a handful of the largest and wealthiest countries from the rest of the world to have a seat at the table, though the smaller group continues to meet as well.

Opposition to the G7/G8 and to the G20 is a response – or, really, many different responses – to the injustices produced by the global order of which they are a part. Growing inequality, colonization, environmental destruction, corporate greed, white supremacy and anti-Blackness, war and occupation, injustice towards migrants, and many other forms of exploitation and oppression mark the global capitalism that is pushed by the G8 and the G20 in the 21st century. So when Stephen Harper announced that the G8 summit in 2010 would be in Huntsville, Ont., and the G20 would meet immediately after in Toronto, many people with many different politics began organizing to express their opposition in the streets.

At the time, Stewart was living in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont. He and other activists in his community did lots of work in the lead-up to the summit to build both local awareness of the issues and local capacity to participate in resistance. They also organized buses to bring people to and from Toronto for the actions. The plan in Toronto when the G8 was in Huntsville was to have a series of actions organized into themed days, each focused on a different area of struggle, culminating in larger protest events on the Saturday and Sunday when the G20 meetings were taking place.

Of course, what has stuck most prominently in public memory about the G20 summit is the lockdown of parts of downtown Toronto enforced by a massive wall and the egregiously bad behaviour by the police. That included the largest mass-arrest in Canadian history, and a whole host of absuses by law enforcement on the streets and in detention facilities. As reported in 2012, even an internal police review after the fact agreed there was widespread use of excessive force, overstepping of police authority, illegal arrests, and more, while a representative of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association was more blunt, characterizing it as "rights violations on a massive scale."

One of Stewart's pivotal experiences in that week happened on the Friday. He was preparing to enter a public park that was being used as a staging area by demonstrators. The police were blocking people from entering the park unless they submitted to a search of all of their belongings, and they were seizing items like protest signs, flag poles, bike gloves, and swimming goggles. Stewart had been very involved in organizing "know your rights" workshops before the summit, and he understood these actions to be beyond the powers of the police, so he asserted his rights and refused to cooperate. Though he was not arrested or detailed at that point, his bag was searched without his consent and his goggles were taken. Unbeknownst to him, much of this interaction was captured on video. Though he was also part of a mass arrest that took place later in the weekend, it was this interaction at the park that became the focus of his lawsuit against the Toronto police.

Stewart and lawyer Davin Charney initiated the lawsuit back in 2011, but due to relentless delaying tactics by the police, the trial did not take place until early 2018. In July 2018, the judge ruled in favour of the police. Currently, Stewart and Charney are appealing that ruling.

It has been a long and difficult journey, but Stewart is continuing the fight because he sees such lawsuits as one mechanism among the many that we must use to challenge abusive behaviours by the police and the criminalization of dissent. Victories in the court room do not replace victories on the streets, he argues, but they can contribute to the conditions that help make victories on the streets more possible.

Image: Modified from a photo taken by Murray Bush and used with the permission of Luke Stewart.

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Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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